BET formally celebrated its 25th anniversary last night (Oct. 26) during the taping of “25 Strong: The BET Silver Anniversary Special.” Everyone from the network’s first video host Donnie Simpson to Alicia Keys paid tribute to, in the words of DJ Quik, “the little station that could.”
The celebration also doubled as a farewell salute to BET’s retiring founder/chairman Robert L. Johnson. Taped at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, special will air Tuesday (Nov. 1) on the network.
Opening act Earth, Wind & Fire reprised its hit, “Let’s Groove,” which was the first video to air on BET when it launched in 1980. From there, five hosts each anchored five-year segments that recalled the channel’s 25-year history through performances, clips (“BET Moments”) and reflections from key figures in business, music, television and film, including Johnson’s successor, president/CEO Debra Lee.
Among the segment hosts and participating personalities were Simpson, Steve Harvey, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Usher, Queen Latifah, Arsenio Hall, Whitney Houston, Serena Williams and MC Hammer. Performers who had the audience on its feet most of the night included LL Cool J, New Edition, Mary J. Blige and Method Man, R. Kelly, Keys and Nelly. BET personality Dr. Bobby Jones hosted a rousing gospel segment that featured Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin and Shirley Caesar.
Backstage, all of the participants echoed the sentiments of MC Hammer when asked about BET’s impact and legacy over the last 25 years. “I started out from the trunk of my car in Oakland doing self-promotion,” he recalled. “I had some buzz building but it was BET who launched me into everyone’s living room. With no BET there would be no platform. Bob Johnson created opportunity for us.”
Launching in tandem with the 25th anniversary celebration is BET’s new image campaign. Incorporating changes in network identification and on-air promos that “celebrate the richness of black culture,” the campaign also extends to the channel’s online site, BET.com.